This afternoon, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation titled, Keep that Smile: The Booker Wright Story at Moraine Park Technical College in West Bend, Wisconsin. The presentation was conducted by Booker Wright’s granddaughter, writer and filmmaker Yvette Johnson.
Booker Wright was an African-American waiter who worked in a white-only restaurant in Greenwood, Mississippi in the early 1960’s. In 1965, he appeared in a short NBC television documentary titled, Mississippi: A Self Portrait:
After his appearance on this special, Wright was ostracized by blacks and whites alike. He was pistol-whipped by a white police officer, lost his job, and had his own business fire-bombed. He was murdered at Booker’s Place in 1973.
Yvette Johnson, who grew up in a suburban neighborhood in southern California, was inspired to tell her grandfather’s story after first learning of it in 2007. She coproduced a documentary about her grandfather titled, “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story.” The documentary premiered with rave reviews at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
In addition to speaking to us about her grandfather’s story, Yvette also read a beautiful excerpt from her book, Searching for Booker Wright. In this one hour presentation, she told a compelling story that led me to run home and do more research online. To learn more about Booker Wright and Yvette Johnson, watch this Dateline NBC episode titled, Finding Booker’s Place. You can also follow Yvette on her blog, The Booker Wright Project.
“Keep that Smile: The Booker Wright Story” was sponsored by Moraine Park Technical College’s West Bend Student Senate, Diversity Relations, and Human Resources as part of the school’s Black History Month Celebration.